Looking Afresh At What We Take For Granted: Clouds (2/2)

20190624 LOOKING AFRESH AT WHAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED CLOUDS 2

How we perceive clouds, when we stop and stare, pause and look up depends on our intensity, or mood, our worldview.

For some the cloud they see might only be a combination of water billowed along by barometric pressure, for others there might be a recognition that that type of cloud heralds a storm, for others it may be a portent of a future event, for others it might initiate something deep inside. Whatever it does, clouds have a certain mystery about them, and hold a wisdom from which we can learn if we are open to that natural awareness like the Ancients were.

‘Never lose hope. The darkest clouds precede the loveliest rain!’ Avijeet Das

Last time [see here] we looked at low level and mid-level clouds, and now we consider those above that level.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At about 7000 feet to 23000 feet are altostratus clouds – mid-level layers of thin, featureless grey cloud. Usually thin enough to reveal the position of the sun, and sometimes the moon at night, and because these diffuse clouds may contain ice crystals you might also see a halo, a coloured ‘corona’ around the sun or moon in the clouds.

Laying on my back, aged six years (and so, some years ago), at home in Capel Curig, with friends and gazing at the sky, and spying a halo around the sun we would make a wish. I would like to say that the wishes were lofty and noble, but we were only young and on the few occasions we saw those halos we would wish for (more) sweets, a tree-house or new bicycles. Typical children. Happy days.

‘Ring around the Moon, Rain Real Soon’. Anon

cloud b BrockenspecterWith that kind of diffuse cloud in mind, it is worth mentioning the Brocken Spectre. Sometimes called Brocken bow or mountain spectre, this is the magnified (and apparently enormous) shadow of an observer cast upon clouds opposite of the Sun’s direction. The projection is often surrounded by the halo-like rings of coloured light.

The phenomenon can appear on any misty mountainside or cloud bank, but the frequent fogs and low-altitude accessibility of the Brocken, a peak in the Harz Mountains in Germany, have created a local legend from which the phenomenon draws its name. The Brocken spectre mentioned by Johann Silberschlag in 1780.

‘The colour has faded out of the sky. It is grey, becoming darker as the world turns herself round a little more. The clouds are long and black and ragged, like the wings of storm battered dragons.’ Keri Hulme

If you’re thinking of thick grey clouds that bring heavy rain, hail or snow, then look no furtheNimbostratus virga. Bearbeitung: Unscharf maskieren auf HS_V_, Weiche Kanten.r than nimbostratus clouds which reach altitudes of 2000 feet to 18000 feet. These are the clouds that you might see in the distance and actually see the rain failing as a thin, diaphanous ‘curtain’.

The word ‘Nimbo’ comes from the Latin word nimbus, which denotes precipitation. And, whilst on the origin of words – and you know how I love myth – nephos is Greek meaning “cloud”. In Greek legend Nephele was created from a cloud by Zeus, who shaped the cloud to look like Hera in order to trick Ixion, a mortal who desired her.

‘Clouds are just nature’s stepping stones to the heavens.’ Anthony T Hincks

clouds 33 untitledLeaving the mid-level clouds behind we look at those high level clouds, the first of which are cirrus clouds. The clouds ‘reside’ at altitudes of between 17000 and 45000 feet. These clouds are usually detached from each other, and appear as patches or bands of cloud. These are fast-moving clouds, buffeted by high winds – think of aircraft turbulence; but because they can be so high, as anything far away, the ‘illusion’ is that they are slow moving. But, this isn’t the case.

clouds 4 Cirrocumulus_clouds_Thousand_Oaks_July_2010If there are to be any clouds about on a summer’s day, then the lofty cirrocumulus clouds at 17000 feet to 45000 feet are the ones that will delight. These clouds are high and are really tiny ‘cloudlets’, regularly spaced, and maybe with a ‘rippled’ effect. Cirrocumulus clouds tend to reflect the red and yellow colours during a sunset and sunrise, and so they have often been referred to as “one of the most beautiful clouds”. This occurs because they reflect the unscattered rays of light from the early morning or evening sun.

‘Clouds are on top for a reason. They float so high because they refuse to carry any burden!’ Jasleen Kaur Gumber

clouds 5 cirrostrat 240px-Clouds_CH7Finally, in our brief look at clouds, the ‘high-flyers’ are cirrostratus clouds, ‘floating’ above 20000 feet. These can often be referred to as ‘the clouds that aren’t really there’, as they can cover hundreds of square miles, but can be so ‘thin’, so high and so subtle that they’re often overlooked by earth-bound observers.

Hopefully, this and the previous article has (re)kindled your love of the nature of clouds, and further your knowledge, wisdom and awareness (of them).

‘A parade of clouds
and little puffs behind them
they follow as their Mother’.

Julia Hartwig, Spojrzenie

Clouds, I would suggest are not just to be seen as objects to be scientifically analysed (though there is nothing wrong with that), but also to be understood as part of weather-lore, and something more – that they might trigger a deeper spirituality of awe in you, and yes, for some, to be seen as wonderful objects that give us some other-worldly wisdom, and/or entertain us for hours as we gaze at their majesty and changing shapes. Was that a whale? A television? An angel?

Next time you see a cloud (and it’s safe to do so), why not pause, and when you can, let me know what you ‘saw’, and if it had a deeper meaning to you. Perhaps it’s a ‘message’ from the Great Cloud-Giver? Happy cloud-spotting!

 

20190624 LOOKING AFRESH AT WHAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED CLOUDS 2

 

 

Looking Afresh At What We Take For Granted: Clouds (1/2)

20190620 LOOKING AFRESH AT WHAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED CLOUDS

Since the dawn of time, when our first ancestors were capable of craning their necks and looking at nature in awe, the sky has mesmerised humankind. The blue sky, insects buzzing and birds flying, the stars in the night sky forming a myriad of patterns in which to form their mythology and track the course of time, enthralled the ancients. And clouds. Clouds, too, caught the imagination of those giants of old.

For those wanting to journey further along that path of awareness, living life to the full, and being close or closer, or at one with nature, ‘cloud spotting’ is an awe-inspiring, encouraging, ’enveloping’, enlivening, and entertaining event.

‘To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted’. George Keller

As I lay on a picnic blanket in Richmond Park, west London, with my mother beside me – and I should point out I was about six years old at the time – we played that game of looking up at the clouds and imagining what the various cloud shapes looked like. ‘It looks like a television’, my mother said. As the high winds slowly changed the cloud’s shape, I waited, laughed and then exclaimed loudly, ‘It now looks more like a whale.’ And, so it went on.

Ofcourse, years later, I took the photograph that appears at the top of this article. What an amazing cloud. Isn’t that an angel?

cloud cumulus 799px-GoldenMedowsThe lowest clouds are cumulus clouds. They’re usually fast, floating around about 3000 feet above the ground. Low, puffy clouds with flat bases, generally, their upper parts often resemble cauliflowers, and they are not the harbingers of rain. But, it may be these that are the ‘shape-shifting’ clouds that, in my boyhood, resembled animals and inanimate objects.

‘I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.’

(The Cloud. Percy Bysshe Shelley)

cloud cumulonombus Wagga-CumulonimbusAbove this layer of cloud lie the slow-moving, rather majestic cumulonimbus clouds, soaring from about 4500 feet to 45000 feet. With their huge height and volume, these are the clouds that bring rain and storms, and even thunder and lightning.

There is an ancient Hindu tradition that says that high above the earth it is elephants that are the bringers of rain, and that clouds themselves were the celestial relatives of the white elephants that roamed the earth. And the rain? Well, the elephants would use their trunks to shower the earth below with rain.

cloud stratus UntitledStratus clouds are those are fog-like, misty, diffuse clouds. They are the kind of widespread cloud that uniformly blanket the whole sky, and which can be seen especially, but not only around mountains and coastal areas.

They can form at ground level as fog or mist, but can also reach up to an altitude of about 7000 feet.

cloud stratocumular jacobs ladder 450px-Sun_over_Lake_Hawea,_New_ZealandStratocumulus clouds, about 7000 feet above us, are thick, but usually patchy clouds, with ‘gaps’ that allow you to see the blue sky occasionally, or if its near dawn or dusk allow the suns rays to shine through in several shafts of light. This effect is called crepuscular rays, God’s rays, Buddha rays or Jacob’s ladder.

Boats sail on the rivers,
And ships sail on the seas;
But clouds that sail across the sky
Are prettier far than these.

There are bridges on the rivers,
As pretty as you please;
But the bow that bridges heaven,
And overtops the trees,
And builds a road from earth to sky,
Is prettier far than these.

(Christina Rossetti)

To the Moari’s these ‘fingers’ of sunshine were known as the ‘Ropes of Maui’ (from the Maori tale of Maui Potiki restraining the sun with ropes to make the days longer), or the sun drawing water, from the ancient Greek belief that sunbeams drew water into the sky (which isn’t altogether odd as it seems to be an early description of evaporation).

cloud altocumulus mackerel sky 220px-MackerelskylincolnshireAbove these clouds, at about 16000 feet are altocumulus clouds. They can be a multitude of rounded ‘clumps’ of cloud, almond shape, and resemble fish scales – hence it may be called a ‘mackerel’ sky. In France it is sometimes called a ciel moutonné (fleecy sky); in Spain a cielo empedrado (cobbled sky); in Germany it is known as Schäfchenwolken (sheep clouds), and in Italy the clouds are known as a pecorelle (little sheep).

Hamlet: ‘Do you see that cloud that’s almost shaped like a camel?’
Polonius: ‘By the mass, and it’s like a camel, indeed’.
Hamlet: ‘Methinks it is like a weasel’.
Polonius: ‘It is back’d like a weasel’.
Hamlet: ‘Or like a whale?’
Polonius: ‘Very like a whale’.

[Hamlet. Williams Shakespeare]

Still laying on my back, this time a few months later, and back home in Capel Curig, in Wales, I was looking up at a mackerel sky, one evening. I have found the ‘cure’ for insomnia, not that I suffered from that at six years of age. But, in laying down, looking up, I decided it would be a good idea to count those clumps of altocumulus clouds, the ‘scales’ of that mackerel sky, and promptly fell asleep. For me, then, it seemed better than the proverbial counting sheep in one’s mind’s eye.

Clouds are fascinating, and there’s more. But, meanwhile, I would encourage you to sit, pause and gaze heavenward, and just meditate on clouds. Enjoy their beauty, the bounty of the Cloud-Giver, recapture your childhood and see if you can see a dog, a whale, and elephant, a television in cloud shapes, or even an angel? What are you missing?

[Part 2, soon]

20190620 LOOKING AFRESH AT WHAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED CLOUDS